In the past few years, photo artist John Stezaker has had something of an art-world zeitgeist moment—which is both deserved and a bit belated, as the 63-year-old artist’s career has spanned more than four decades. Stezaker’s most notable works involve the manipulation of archival film stock images—particularly black-and-white actor headshots circa the 1940s. Through collage, fragmentation, merging strangely accordant figures and planes, and even occasionally gluing a dissonant postcard overtop a face, Stezaker’s small-scale works achieve a hyper-imposed friction in which the artist operates as both savior (salvaging long-forgotten photography) and destroyer (literally slicing and distorting the images into violent contradictions). “There used to be a variety of shops you could buy the film images from,” says Stezaker. “They came into the market through junk shops and book stores. But when the big-screen cinemas started to close in the mid-’70s, in favor of the multiplexes, that kind of photography disappeared.” In one of the basement offices of Stezaker’s terrace house in Camden is an entire wall devoted to a stock-film archive that he purchased in bulk when one of those image banks went out of business. Stezaker’s predilection is for mainstream cinematic images: “The ones shot by a particular photographer that most collectors want are useless to me,” he says. “I use the standardized, technical images that were printed a hundred-thousand times over. I feel at liberty to cut them up.” While Stezaker, who taught visual art at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art and was one of those shaman-like teachers to several generations of British artists before retiring in 2005, possesses a method that could be traced to the ’70s and ’80s appropriation movement in American art, he’s more aligned with a European sensibility that stretches from dada and surrealism to Marcel Broodthaers. “American art has always tried to present itself as a pristine commodity,” he says, but the artist has always felt that his work explored his English roots. Recently, he’s moved from the still sculptural image to “time-based works” that function cinematically. “All films are a collection of images,” he says. His 2012 piece Horse, which shares a subject with English photo pioneer Eadweard Muybridge’s first motion picture of a galloping race horse, consists of 3,600 images of various horses at a side angle that, when projected at 23 frames per second, create one lasting, shifting, familiar and yet hypnotically unreliable animal, as if turning the continuity of Muybridge back on itself.
PHOTO: JOHN STEZAKER IN LONDON, OCTOBER 2012. ALL CLOTHING: STEZAKERÂ?’S OWN.